Reports say China steals a US underwater research drone while a U.S. crew was watching, in the South China Sea.
According to Fox news, the part of the South China Sea where the theft took place is being contested by the Chinese and the Philippines.
The incident took place at about 12 PM local time on Thursday, about 40 miles west of the Philippines and about 150 miles from Scarborough Shoal.
The Chinese navy ship, for days, had been shadowing the American ship USNS Bowditch, which deployed the drone, a Slocum Glider.
Analyst and author Gordon Chang described the action as an “act of war because U.S. military property was stolen.”
“This is an act of war against the United States.”
The American research ship is owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by Military Sealift Command.
The ship also has a crew of contracted civilian mariners and scientists.
The American crew watched the Chinese take the underwater drone from a short distance away.
The Chinese Navy ship was only a quarter of a mile away, a defense official told Fox News.
A statement released by Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook on twitter said:
“We call upon China to return our [unmanned underwater vehicle] immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”
Reports say China has been regularly shadowing U.S. Navy vessels in the South China Sea for months.
On Wednesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that China apparently set up anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attacks on all seven of its man-made islands in the strategically vital area.
CHina Steals US Underwater Drone, America Treatens
According to Fox News, the underwater drone was used to map the sea bed and gather other oceanographic data., and contained no classified material.
The drone, however, did not contain any classified material.
The USNS Bowditch contained only small arms which were likely stored away on board, a defense official said.
The ship is used to “support worldwide oceanography programs, including performing acoustical, biological, physical and geophysical surveys,” according to its website.
The drone was worth roughly $150,000.
After the Chinese vessel plucked the drone out of the water, the American research ship’s crew tried to call the Chinese ship over bridge-to-bridge radio, but to no avail.
On Friday, the US State Department lodged a formal protest known as a demarche, which the U.S. ambassador in Beijing delivered to the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, officials at the Chinese Embassy are yet to comment on the incident.
Analysts say the is likely to further strain the already tense relations between the U.S. and China.
China was angered by President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to talk by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec.